Categories
Bible Study

John Bible Study, Day 38: Thomas Believes

Today’s passage: John 20:19–31

Focus verse: Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

The Bible writes that faith is having confidence in the things we hope for and assurance in what we don’t see (Hebrews 11:1). Today this definition of faith applies to us.

We cannot see Jesus, so we must accept his resurrection and the salvation that he provides through faith. We have confidence and assurance that he overcame death to save us.

The disciples and Jesus’s other followers have it better than we do. Some of them see the empty tomb and eventually all of them meet the resurrected Jesus. It doesn’t take so much faith to believe what their eyes perceive. John, “the other disciple,” sees and believes (John 20:8).

We can assume that Mary and Peter also believe once they see the evidence of Jesus’s empty tomb (John 20:1–2 and 6–7). The rest of the disciples believe when they see him (John 20:20)—or at least everyone except Thomas.

Though Matthew, Mark, and Luke only mention Thomas once, John tells us more about him than the rest of the Bible combined. He shares three accounts about Thomas. 

The first story is Jesus telling his disciples what to expect and encouraging them to believe. He talks of preparing a place for them in heaven and coming back to get them so they can hang out with him forever. Then Jesus adds, “You know the way.”

This confuses Thomas. He wants clarification.

Jesus responds with what has become a familiar verse. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

The second story is what Thomas is most known for. This is where we get the phrase doubting Thomas. When Jesus rises from the dead and sees his disciples for the first time, Thomas is absent.

He doesn’t believe the disciples when they insist that Jesus is alive—again. Thomas does the reasonable thing and demands proof.

In the third story, the disciples, including Thomas, hide in a locked room. Jesus materializes in their midst. He shows Thomas the nail scars in his hand and invites him to examine his side, pierced by the soldier’s spear. “Stop doubting,” Jesus says, “and believe.”

At last, Thomas does. “My Lord and my God!” Thomas now believes. He is no longer doubting Thomas but believing Thomas.

Though doubt characterizes him for a time, belief is where he ends up. He finishes strong. May we do likewise. May we have a firm belief in Jesus and who he is.

Jesus blesses Thomas because he sees and believes. We’re more blessed because we haven’t seen and still believe.

Questions:

  1. Do you doubt that Jesus is who he claims to be? Why?
  2. How do you define faith?
  3. What should you do when your faith wavers?
  4. Is faith the absence of doubt or is it belief in the face of doubt? Why?
  5. Which of John’s three stories about Thomas do you most identify with? Why?

Discover more about faith in Hebrews 11:1–40. What insights can you glean from this passage?

Read the next lesson or start at the beginning of this study.

Tips: Check out our tips to use this online Bible study for your church, small group, Sunday school class, or family discussion. It’s also ideal for personal study. Come back each Monday for a new lesson.


Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

Make Disciples Not Converts

We Should Do What Jesus Commands and Push Secondary Pursuits Aside

Jesus wants us to be his disciples. Each of the biographies of Jesus mention this. To be his disciple means to set all else aside and follow him (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, and Luke 14:26–33).

As his disciples he expects us to produce fruit, that is to help other people become disciples too (John 15:8). It’s clear. We need to make disciples.

Matthew’s biography of Jesus records his final instructions to his followers before he returns to heaven. Jesus tells his followers to go everywhere and make disciples (Matthew 28:18–20, which some call the Great Commission).

He doesn’t say he wants them to go and make converts. He wants disciples. Though believing in God is the first step, it’s not enough. Jesus wants more. He wants followers who go all in for him.

Much of today’s church has missed this call for discipleship. Instead they focus on conversions, such as praying a prayer, being baptized, or making a public declaration of belief in Jesus. But this is just the first step on a lifelong journey of faith, a journey into discipleship.

Jesus commands us to make disciples, yet few churches do this on a corporate level. And few people do this on a personal level.

When a person says “yes” to Jesus, that’s wonderful news and the angels celebrate (Luke 15:10). Yet too many churches then abandon those new believers and leave them to flounder (Luke 8:11–15).

Instead they should invest in that person and help them become a disciple of Jesus, just as he commanded. Then that person can go out and make another disciple.

If we all made disciples—just as Jesus instructed—there would be many more people following him and the world would be a much better place.

Jesus told us to go out and make disciples. We need to take this command seriously and obey it. We can start today.

Read the first post in this series about things we must change in our discussion about our church buildings and facilities.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Bible Study

John Bible Study, Day 25: Jesus Is the Way

Today’s passage: John 14:1–14

Focus verse: Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)

Jesus has but a few hours left on earth. He wants to make the most of every moment. The teacher gives last-minute instructions to his disciples, trying to encourage them, which they’ll need in the days, months, and years ahead.

He talks about his father’s house with many rooms, about him preparing a place for them, and about him coming back to get them so they can be with him. If this isn’t cryptic enough, Jesus adds, “You know the way to where I’m going.”

Thomas, one of Jesus’s twelve disciples, doesn’t. Speaking for the rest of them, he seeks clarification: “We don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know how to get there?”

Jesus gives him a five-part answer, which John records for us. Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Let’s explore this.

First, Jesus opens with, “I am.” Don’t miss this. In the Old Testament, God the Father tells Moses to think of him as I am. When Jesus repeats this phrase in his concise answer, it’s intentional.

We’re reminded that Jesus also exists as God, as God the Son. Jesus is the I am, just as much as the Father. (See Day 17 Bonus Content: “I Am.”)

Next, Jesus gives the first of three instructive phrases, saying that he is “the way.” Jesus himself serves as the path to God the Father. As our Messiah, he points us in the right direction.

He provides the means for us to get there. Soon he’ll do this by serving as the ultimate sin sacrifice for all of humanity, past, present, and future.

Jesus adds that he is “the truth.” He personifies what is real. He exemplifies truth, proclaims truth, and models truth. We can always rely on the words of Jesus as dependable. His words will set us free (John 8:31–32).

After confirming that he is the way and the truth, he adds that he is “the life.” Not only does Jesus give us life, but he is life. After giving us life at creation, he continues as one who lives forever. We, as his followers, will enjoy eternity with him.

The final of the five key phrases in this verse is “through me.” Jesus is the door to Father God. The first four parts of Jesus’s answer culminate in his conclusion: through him we reconcile with God the Father, our spiritual Papa.

Jesus supplies what we need for our journey in this life and into the next. He is the source of life, of truth, and of the way to the Father.

Questions:

  1. How can you encourage others, as Jesus encouraged his disciples?
  2. What does it mean to you that Jesus is the way?
  3. What does it mean to you that Jesus is the truth?
  4. What does it mean to you that Jesus is the life? 
  5. How does Jesus being the way, truth, and life influence how you live your life?

Discover more about Jesus being truth and life in Luke 20:21, John 11:25, and John 18:37. What insights can you glean from these passages?

Read the next lesson or start at the beginning of this study.

Tips: Check out our tips to use this online Bible study for your church, small group, Sunday school class, or family discussion. It’s also ideal for personal study. Come back each Monday for a new lesson.


Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Visiting Churches

Urban on a Mission: Church #68

Candy and I live in a homogenous area of mostly white, middle-class families residing in a suburban setting, sitting on the edge of rural. Our community has minimal diversity and our area churches, even less.

Most of my life I’ve lived in settings with people like me. Our current home is like our others. The neighborhood, both comfortable and stable, stands as a safe place sheltered from the world around it.

We chose this general location to be near family and this setting for its amenities and ambiance. We didn’t intentionally set out to segregate ourselves. It just happened. However, we weren’t deliberate about seeking a more diverse environment, either.

Even though we couldn’t have achieved this goal along with our other objectives, it still pains me. What hurts me more is to know that if we visit an area church, it will be a mostly white experience. 

A Nearby Urban Church

When a friend mentions an urban church in a nearby city, I’m excited. I can’t experience much diversity where I live without moving, but I can experience it through my church selection.

Based on this church’s location and its desire to serve the inner city, I anticipate meeting people of other races and expect a service style relevant to its neighborhood.

It takes some effort, but I eventually find their website. They’re an evangelical community of Christians committed to “intentional discipleship.”

I have no idea why they put intentional discipleship in quotes, but it calls attention to the phrase, though in a curious way. The phrase appears multiple times on their home page. It must be important.

I also know to expect “verse-by-verse Bible teaching.” Next I learn they’re “a multi-racial and multi-socio-economic relational community,” a “true urban church,” where “the homeless worship side-by-side and support one another in Christ.” 

Their website also talks about community outreach, including serving at the community kitchen, inner city street events, and downtown student fellowship—the campus of a Christian college is only a couple of blocks away.

Surely their urban setting allows for these things to happen. I’m excited for what we’ll encounter when we visit. 

What About Parking?

I tell Candy it’s a thirty-minute drive and she accepts this, even though online resources put it at twenty-four. We add a ten-minute buffer and plan to leave forty minutes early, but I doubt we will. I wonder about parking.

In truth, I worry about parking. I know there’s limited street parking in the area, and I have no clue about parking lots in the vicinity. The church’s website doesn’t help, giving only a street number.

As we head out, thirty minutes early, we pray for God’s blessing during our time at this church, that we will be an encouragement to those we meet, and God will show us what he wants us to learn.

Silently, I add my request that we’ll find a place to park, one that is both close and safe.

After my prayer, I breathe a bit easier and my shoulders relax—just a little. Whatever happens will happen, and worrying about it won’t change a thing.

We once attended an urban church. Ironically, back then it was Candy who had concerns about safety when walking from our parked car to the church and then back again.

This church meets in an old warehouse, which they just started using. I like the idea of churches meeting in reclaimed spaces, as opposed to going to the expense of constructing a huge church building that they’ll only use a few hours a week.

For them to meet in a downtown area, using existing space is their only option.

I navigate the one-way streets, needing to overshoot our destination and approach it from the other side.

As we get closer, my pulse quickens with apprehension about the parking situation and for the unknown that awaits us inside. With one block to go, I wipe my sweaty hands on my jeans. My heart pounds. I strive to keep my fears to myself.

Ahead, I spot a sign for the church on the sidewalk, with a few people mingling around the entrance. To my left is a city parking lot. I thank God and pull in.

There are empty spots awaiting us and, as a bonus, we don’t need to pay because it’s the weekend. I worried for nothing, but then, most of the things we worry about never happen anyway. Still, I give credit to Papa for answered prayer and a place to park.

Anticipating a Potluck

The surrounding area is nice. It’s well-kept and clean. We feel safe. As we walk from the parking lot to the building, another family approaches from the opposite direction and others walk from across the street. Both groups wear smiles and carry crockpots. I groan. 

“Looks like there’s a potluck,” I whisper to Candy. A time around a shared meal is a great way to connect with others and build community, but I regret coming emptyhanded.

Once more on our adventure of visiting churches, we’ll be freeloaders. They’ll surely welcome us generously and invite us to stay, insisting there will be plenty of food. Nonetheless, I’ll feel a tad guilty for receiving what they’ll share, offering nothing in return.

I also know that instead of a two-hour church meeting, we’ll have a three-hour church community experience.

Since we have no other plans for this afternoon, this isn’t a problem, but I do need to mentally adjust my thinking for how long we will be here. I don’t do well with handling the unexpected, but God graciously enables me to accept this twist as an adventure. 

Navigating the Facility

Two people welcome us before we enter the building of this urban church and more folks greet us inside. They share two important pieces of information.

The first is the location of the sanctuary and the other is directions to the restrooms, which are on another floor and not close by. Good to know. 

The worship space is a large banquet hall, reclaimed from what was once a warehouse. Along one side of the rectangular space sits a slightly-raised stage, the focal point of the service, with musical instruments and gear for the worship team.

In front of it is a communion table, an altar of sorts. On the opposite wall, a row of tables lines the other side, already filling with the food we’ll enjoy in a couple of hours. In the space between stand fifteen round tables, with seven chairs each. That calculates to 105 seats.

So that we won’t need to contort our necks or pivot our chairs to participate in the service, I look for a table that has open seats facing the front. Few people are sitting, but others have claimed most of the forward-facing chairs, marked with Bibles, purses, and coffee mugs.

At the far end of the room, I spot one open table and scoot toward it, grabbing the two forward-facing spots. As we settle down, another couple joins us, and we spend time getting to know each other.

The Worship Team

They’re friendly, and we make a quick connection. Then the wife of this couple excuses herself to join the worship team as it assembles in the front.

Six people lead us in singing. The lead vocalist also plays keyboard. Our new friend plays violin. Joining them are a bass guitar player and a drummer, along with two backup vocalists.

For the next forty-five minutes we sing, mostly modern choruses and one updated hymn. 

We stand as we sing. Some of the seventy or so people present raise their hands in praise as they sing to God, while a few gently move their bodies in a subtle form of physical worship.

With plenty of space, I can freely raise my arms without bumping into people—a common occurrence given the tight seating at most churches.

The crowd is mostly older, fifty plus if I’m being generous, but over sixty is more likely. There are few kids, one set with their grandparents and another set who we later find out are visiting. The crowd is white and not the amalgamation of races I had anticipated. 

I don’t spot anyone who looks—or smells—homeless. Having been part of an urban church for eight years, one which attracted a large contingency of homeless, I’m used to being around them. Could the homeless in this area be a more upscale version than what I know?

Ones who enjoy regular access to showers and washing machines, who have clothes that match. Aside from the urban setting, this doesn’t look much like an urban church. We don’t ask, and no one explains the lack of diversity that their website promised.

We have a reading from Psalm 148, followed by a meditation. Next is the offertory prayer and the offering. After this we move into a time of prayer.

They share specific concerns—mostly health and work related—for the people present. Some people gather around those near them who need prayer and pray for them. Next is a ministry update and more prayer.

People in the congregation take an active part in all of this. At this point, we’ve only heard from the teaching pastor two brief times. This is more how a church gathering should function, with people ministering to one another.

An Intermission

Now at an hour into the service, we take a fifteen-minute break. This allows us time to meet more people. We don’t need to mingle to do this. They come up to us.

Most everyone asks where we live and are amazed at how far we traveled to visit them.

When I ask them the same question, I’m surprised to learn that not one of them lives in the downtown area. Everyone we talked to drove from suburbia or the country to reach this urban setting. Curious.

During this interlude, a prayer team is available to pray for people. A line never forms, but they keep busy as people approach them for prayer.

The Message

The sermon is “Let the Church be the Church” and the text is Philippians 1:1–2. The interior of the bulletin offers a two-page spread, packed with sermon notes, complete with over fifty blanks for us to fill in.

I skip this, knowing I’ll become so fixated on filling in every blank that I’ll miss the actual message. Candy, however, is up for the challenge and fills in most of them.

For forty-five minutes, the pastor tells us about elders and deacons, about God’s grace and peace. In doing so, he pulls in much related teaching from other passages in the Bible, adding much to the text.

This isn’t the verse-by-verse Bible teaching that the website promised, but a springboard text that serves as a preface for expanded instruction.

His informed teaching is interesting, but I don’t grasp a central point or purpose in what he shares. As he concludes, his message takes an evangelical turn, reminding us to pray for one person to lead to Jesus.

We then quickly move into the potluck, with a bounty of food—much of it left over from a wedding reception the day before. Many people invite us to stay, almost relieved when we say “yes.”

Plenty to Eat

With so many who reach out to us, we’re among the last to get in line to select our food. Even lining up late, there’s still plenty to eat, at least twice the amount needed.

In true potluck style, I take a little bit of most everything and end up with a plate heaped full of more than I should eat. It tastes so good. Good food, good fellowship, and good times. This is more of what church should be.

We interact with more people. All are friendly and engaging. Through it all, we suffer through no awkward moments that too often happen at churches where people don’t welcome well or don’t welcome at all.

This, however, is an engaging group. They’re intentional about their faith and their life. 

I’m glad we experienced community with this urban church. God, bless them and their work for your kingdom.

[See the discussion questions for Church 68, read about Church 67, Church 69, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

The New Testament Approach to Church

Consider the Example of Jesus’s Followers in the Bible

The commands in the Old Testament about the tabernacle/temple, priesthood, and tithe are clear. The New Testament, however, lacks specific instructions for us to follow. But this doesn’t mean we should adhere to the Old Testament model as a default.

Instead we look at the practices of the early church to guide us in our interactions with God, to worship, serve, and tell the world about Jesus. We need to be a New Testament church.

Let’s start with Stephen. In his lengthy message before the Sanhedrin, he reminds those gathered that God does not live in the temple, in a house built by people (Acts 7:48-50).

But Stephen isn’t spouting a new idea. He quotes Isaiah (Isaiah 66:1-2). This verse finds support from other Old Testament passages (1 Kings 8:27 and 2 Chronicles 2:6).

Even in the Old Testament God is already countering his people’s idea that he lives in the temple, and that they must go there to engage with him.

Remember that God didn’t issue his commands about the temple, priests, and tithes until after the people refused to let him speak to them directly and insisted that Moses stand in for them (Exodus 19:6).

Could it be that God gave his people the temple, priests, and tithes as a concession to their desire to keep him at a distance?

Interesting.

Regardless, Jesus fulfills this Old Testament way to approach God.

What does this mean for us? What should change? Let’s look at the New Testament narrative to gather insight in how to adapt God’s Old Testament model of temple, priests, and tithes into a New Testament approach to church.

They Meet in Homes

The first place Jesus’s followers meet after he returns to heaven is in the upper room, a part of someone’s home (Acts 1:13).

They spend time at the temple (Acts 2:46, Acts 3:1, and Acts 5:20) and visit synagogues on the Sabbath (Acts 9:20, Acts 13:14, and Acts 14:1)—until they’re no longer welcome (Acts 18:7). They also meet in public spaces (Acts 16:13 and Acts 19:9).

Mostly they meet in people’s homes (Acts 2:46, Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, and Philemon 1:2). But this isn’t a once-a-week occurrence. They meet daily to eat together (Acts 6:1) and encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13).

The early church continues in their practice of meeting in people’s homes for about three centuries.

At this time, Constantine legalizes Christianity and begins building churches. This starts a shift from gathering in people’s homes—as the early church practiced—back to going to dedicated worship spaces—as the Old Testament did.

The book of Hebrews confirms this transition. It states that the Old Testament tabernacle is an earthly, manmade sanctuary and part of the first covenant—the Old testament way (Hebrews 9:1-2). Whereas Jesus, as our high priest, gives us a more perfect tabernacle, one not manmade (Hebrews 9:11).

They Serve as Priests

We’ve already covered that as Jesus’s followers we are his holy and royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). John also confirms that Jesus made us to be his priests (Revelation 1:6, Revelation 5:10, and Revelation 20:6).

In Hebrews we read that just as the priesthood changed—through Jesus—the law must change as well (Hebrews 7:12). In one grand stroke, God’s law of the Old Testament becomes Jesus’s love in the New Testament. (Not only does the priesthood change in this transition, but so do the accompanying practices of temple and tithe.)

The book of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is our high priest (Hebrews 3:1). This makes him the ultimate priest, with us looking to him as an example of how to be priests serving under him.

As followers of Jesus we are his priests, a holy priesthood, a nation of priests. Are we doing this? No. Instead we hire clergy to work as our modern-day priests, serving as our intermediary between God and us.

We’re not functioning as we should as God’s priests. We delegate this holy responsibility to a select few who have put in their time at seminary and received their ordination papers.

Yet God expects us to obey his call to serve as his holy nation of priests. What are we waiting for? What must we do? There are three elements to address in serving our Lord as priests: minister to those in his church, tell others about him, and worship him.

1. Minister to Those in the Church: God intends all those in his family to serve as priests. We’re all priests. This means there are none in our group who aren’t. Within our church—where everyone is a priest—there’s no longer a role to represent God to his people.

As priests we can all approach him directly, without the need for an intermediary.

Within the church body, as priests we minister to each other. As Jesus’s priests we need to love one another and treat each other as the New Testament tells us to.

2. Tell Others about Jesus: In the Old Testament, the priests have an inward focus on God’s chosen people. They do little to reach out to those outside their group.

This is one of the things Jesus changes when he fulfills the Old Testament. No longer are we to have an inward focus as his followers, as his priests. Instead he wants us to look outward.

The resurrected Jesus makes this clear before he returns to heaven. He tells his disciples to go throughout the world and make disciples. This includes baptizing them and teaching them about him (Matthew 28:19-20).

Paul—who God sends to tell the Gentiles about Jesus—acknowledges this is his priestly duty (Romans 15:15-16). As Jesus’s priest, Paul tells the Gentiles—that is, non-Jews, which means the rest of the world—the good news of salvation. This is so they can be made right with God.

Peter also touches on this in his writing about us being Jesus’s priests. He says we are to declare our adoration of Jesus to others. Implicitly this is to address those living in darkness so we can bring them into his light (1 Peter 2:9).

Jesus instructs us to tell others about him. Paul and Peter say that we do so as his priests.

3. Worship Him: Much of what God establishes in the Old Testament about the tabernacle/temple, priest, and tithes relate to worshiping him. Does this Old Testament worship have a place in the New Testament church?

Yes.

But whereas worship was the goal in the Old Testament, it might more so be the means to reach the goal in the New Testament. It is as Jesus’s church worships him and fasts that the Holy Spirit tells them what to do (Acts 13:2).

Note that they are doing two things when God speaks to them. It isn’t just worship. They also fast. Don’t lose sight of this.

Let’s consider some other mentions of worship in the New Testament.

We’ll start with Jesus and his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. She asks about the appropriate place to worship God. Jesus dismisses the discussion about location and says that his followers will worship Father God in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:20-24).

This means we can worship God anywhere and don’t need to go to a dedicated space. What matters is our attitude toward worship, to do so honestly under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Just as Peter talks about us offering spiritual sacrifices as our worship (1 Peter 2:5), Paul uses the phrase living sacrifice. It’s holy and pleasing to our Lord, serving as honest and right worship (Romans 12:1).

Paul also testifies that as a part of his faith journey he continues to worship God (Acts 24:11 and 14). Furthermore, in his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul goes into much detail about having orderly worship (1 Corinthians 14).

The author of Hebrews talks about us being thankful for the eternal salvation we received as worshiping God in reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28-29).

And remember that John’s Revelation overflows with worship. This suggests that not only is worshiping God a New Testament act, but it will also be an end times and everlasting practice (Revelation 4:10, 5:14, 7:11, 9:20, 11:16, 14:7, 15:4, 19:4, 19:10, and 22:8-9).

Yes, we will continue to worship God. But it should look much different than the Old Testament way.

They Give Generously

Not only do Jesus’s followers meet in homes and minister to one another, they also have a fresh perspective on giving. Instead of tithing, which isn’t a New Testament command, they practice generosity.

The New Testament doesn’t mention Jesus’s followers taking collections to support the church infrastructure. Instead they receive offerings to help other disciples in need (Acts 24:17, Romans 15:26, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, and 2 Corinthians 8).

Notice that the focus of their generosity is to those within the church.

The only time the New Testament mentions a weekly collection (1 Corinthians 16:2) is simply to set aside money to help the struggling believers in Jerusalem, not to support a minister.

They also share what they have with one another (Acts 2:44-45 and Acts 4:32). This is significant, but it isn’t a command. Instead it’s an example.

In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul confirms the importance of helping the poor. In this case, however, he seems to be talking about all who are poor, both those within the church and those outside (Galatians 2:10).

Jesus talks a lot about money and generosity. He says that there will always be poor people among us (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, and John 12:8), but this isn’t a reason to not help them. On several occasions Jesus tells people to give money to the poor.

He says this to the rich man seeking eternal life (Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, and Luke 18:22), the Pharisees (Luke 11:41), and his disciples, which we can rightly apply to ourselves as his present-day disciples (Luke 12:33).

There is evidence in the New Testament that the church provides financial support to missionary efforts, though Paul holds up himself as an example of paying for his own expenses as the ideal. This happens even though he feels he has a right to receive financial support as God’s messenger (1 Corinthians 9:4-18).

Regardless, this financial support is for those who travel to tell the good news of Jesus to those who don’t know him, not for local ministers at various city churches.

The New Testament churches practice of generosity is to help the poor and support missionary efforts, not to pay the salaries of local ministers or build and maintain church buildings.

A New Testament Church

This is the New Testament model for church, Jesus’s church. We have much to do.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

What’s It Mean to Take Up Your Cross Daily and Follow Jesus?

Discover the Truth and Spiritual Significance of Luke 9:23

What did Jesus mean when he said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23)? This reference to the cross—the torturous instrument of Jesus’s death—is enough to make us squirm.

Though not to dismiss this idea of taking up our cross to be a follower of Jesus, it’s not where we should place our focus—at least not right away. This verse contains three key elements. It’s a progression, a spiritual journey.

Here they are in order.

Follow Jesus

The foremost thing—the most important part of this verse—is to follow Jesus. When we follow Jesus, it implies we stop following the things of this world. We make a U-turn with our life and go after Jesus. We say yes to him and no to other distractions.

This is the first step to becoming his disciple.

Yet this isn’t the destination, it’s the beginning.

Yes, making this decision may be enough to get our go-to-heaven-card when we die. But if that’s the only reason for us to say yes to Jesus, we’ll miss out on so much here on earth. And though we may enter heaven by the smallest of margins, we’ll miss out on a fuller reward.

Do It Daily

The next word to focus on in this verse from Luke 9:23 is daily. Following Jesus shouldn’t be a once-and-done decision. We should make it a daily commitment. When we open our eyes each morning, we should make a conscious decision to say yes to Jesus again.

Who would get married and think that saying I do at the wedding ceremony would be enough to establish and sustain a strong, long-term marriage? No one. For a marriage to work well, we need to work at it daily. We need to say I do every day.

The same is true when we follow Jesus. To grow in our relationship with him and realize the riches of being his disciple, we must do it daily.

Make Sacrifices

Having committed ourselves to following Jesus each day, we can now address this troublesome phrase of taking up our cross. For Jesus, the cross meant sacrifice. For him it was the ultimate sacrifice of giving his life for us. Though as Jesus’s disciple, we should be willing to die for him, few of us will be called to do that. Yet we must be prepared that it could happen.

A more applicable understanding is that the cross implies making less lethal sacrifices as we live a life a following Jesus in service to him. Yet if we love Jesus, these sacrifices need not be burdensome. Instead, these are things we willingly give up to serve him and to be a part of team Jesus.

What’s critical here is to comprehend that we don’t need to make sacrifices to get Jesus’s attention, earn our salvation, or merit his favor. Jesus loves us regardless of the things we do or don’t do.

When we make sacrifices for him, we do it in response to the ultimate sacrifice he made for us. It’s how we show our love to him since he already showed his love for us.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

The Bible Tells the Church to Meet Together, Worship, and Witness

We Can’t Witness for Jesus When We Sequester Ourselves on Sunday Mornings

Just before Jesus leaves this world to return to heaven, he instructs his followers to go into the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). In an expanded version of this incident, Jesus tells his followers to wait for Holy Spirit power and then be his witness, both near and far (Acts 1:4-9).

Witness and Make Disciples

The church of Jesus doesn’t do a good job of being witnesses and making disciples. To do so requires an outward perspective, yet most all churches have an inward focus: they care for their own to the peril of outsiders, with many churches excelling in doing so.

Yes, God values community and wants us to meet together (Hebrews 10:25). And the Bible is packed with commands and examples of worshiping God, with Jesus noting that “true worshipers” will worship God in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).

Meeting Together and Worship

Most churches do the meeting together part reasonably well, albeit with varying degrees of success. Many of those churches have a time of worship as they meet together, though perhaps not always “in the Spirit” or even “in truth.”

Yet few churches look outside their walls in order to go into their community to witness and make disciples. Though Jesus said to wait for the Holy Spirit, he didn’t say to wait for people to come to us, to come to our churches so we could witness and disciple them.

No, we are supposed to leave our church buildings to take this work to them. We can’t do that at church on Sunday morning, safely snug behind closed doors.

Go into the World as a Witness

Yes there is a time to come together and a time to worship, but there is also a time to go. And we need to give more attention to the going part.

I know of two churches that have sent their congregations out into their community on Sunday mornings, foregoing the church service in order to be a church that serves. One church did it a few times and stopped after they saw little results and received much grumbling.

The other church regularly plans this a few times each year and garners a positive influence on their community.

Shouldn’t every church make a positive impact on their community? Yet so few do. They are too busy meeting together and worshiping.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Read more about the book of Acts in Tongues of Fire: 40 Devotional Insights for Today’s Church from the Book of Acts, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Does Going to Church Make You a Christian?

The World’s Answer Doesn’t Align with the Truth

I recently read an article about church attendance that vexed me. It came from a Christian magazine. It addressed going to church. The author claimed to have statistical proof that Christians were turning their backs on their faith. What was the stat that caused him to make this rash conclusion?

Quite simply that overall church attendance is down. He made the erroneous assumption that church attendance equated to faith. In his mind, no church attendance meant no faith.

Sadly, I’ve heard the same misguided assumption too many times.

Joyce Meyer, however, smartly puts this in perspective. She says, “Just because you go to church doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. I can go sit in the garage all day and it doesn’t make me a car.”

Well said, Joyce.

Christians in Church

Many Christians attend church. Some go every week, some go once or twice a month, and a few go sporadically. That’s what good Christians do; they have a practice of going to church. At least that’s the conventional wisdom from those on the inside.

I’m there most every week, but the hour I spend at church each Sunday morning isn’t central to my faith. My faith grows most at other times of the week. The Sunday service is an ancillary practice.

Christians Not in Church

Yet not all Christians are in church on Sunday. Some stay away, either through circumstances or preference. I don’t view these folks as less than, even though most well-meaning church proponents do.

I don’t know who said it first, but many have repeated it over the years or agree with its sentiment. “I didn’t leave the church because I lost my faith. I left the church to keep it.”

Yes, there are those who stopped going to church because the experience detracted from their faith instead of enhancing it. Their meaningful spiritual experiences happen outside the four walls of the traditional church on Sunday morning.

Non-Christians in Church

There are three groups of people at most churches each Sunday:

  1. Christians
  2. People who think they’re Christians
  3. Non-Christians who want to learn more

Most churches are comprised of people in the first two groups. The third group rarely comes to church anymore. The church was once a respected institution, a safe place to go to find answers, but few in the non-churched portion of society feel that way anymore.

They may have needs, but they stay away. This brings us to the final category.

Non-Christians Not in Church

Aside from the people who think they’re Christians and aren’t, most non-Christians would never dream of walking into a church building to seek answers or have their spiritual needs met.

These people reside outside the church. If the church wants to reach them, they need to leave the comfort of their building and go out into the world to tell others about Jesus and make disciples (see Matthew 28:19-20).

The Truth about Church

In our discussion about church, we’ve not addressed the most critical consideration. That is, church is not a building. The true church of Jesus is the people. We are—or at least we should be—one united, universal collection of people who follow Jesus as his disciples.

Given this perspective, going to church each Sunday morning doesn’t matter too much. How we live our faith the other 167 hours of the week is where we need to focus.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

May I Have Your Attention Please?

A Large Catch

There’s a story in the Bible of Jesus instructing some fishermen to try fishing from the other side of the boat. Imagine that, a carpenter giving fishing lessons to commercial fishermen. The amazing thing is once they moved to the other side, they caught a boatload of fish. It was as if Jesus was trying to get their attention, and it worked.

In fact, it worked so well, he did it twice!

The first time was early in his ministry, when he was looking for disciples. He definitely got their attention, because they immediately left everything to follow him.

The second time was at the end of Jesus’ ministry, after he rose from the dead, but before he returned to heaven. The fishermen-turned-disciples didn’t know what to do after they saw Jesus die, so they resorted to fishing, but caught nothing.

Jesus hollers for them to try fishing from the other side of the boat. They did and another miraculous catch occurred. Again, he got their attention—and they believed he was alive.

Twice Jesus got their attention. The first time they followed him and the second time they believed in him.

[Luke 5:4-11 and John 21:4:14]

Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Who is Barsabbas?

Learn More about Barsabbas

Barsabbas is by no means a familiar character in the Bible. In fact, he is only mentioned twice—both times in the book of Acts. What makes him an intriguing fellow is his character and integrity.

You see, Barsabbas, along with Matthias, were both considered to become Judas’s replacement, to become the twelfth disciple. Instead of conducting interviews (as would be done nowadays) or even taking a vote, the decision was made by a game of chance. That seems a cavalier and unspiritual thing to do.

To do this, the people prayed for God’s guidance in this process, trusting him in the outcome—and then they drew lots. Matthias was selected (Acts 1:23-26). Barsabbas could have pouted, felt rejected, left the group in a huff, or been mad at the leaders.

He could have even been angry with God. After all, if God’s hand was really in this selection, as they had prayed, then it was God who decided to not pick Barsabbas. Its one thing for a person to tell you “no,” but for God to say “no” carries much more weight.

Yet we don’t hear of him having any of these negative responses. We see no indication that he reacted with disappointment. Apparently, he stuck around and continued to make God his priority and focus, for we next hear of him in Acts 15:22 where he was chosen to be part of an important delegation sent to Antioch.

He proved his true character in how he reacted to not being chosen—that’s integrity.

Read about more biblical characters in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.